As we learned in part one of this series, the field of animal biotechnology consists of two main arms of research. Our focus today is the veterinary side.
Unlike the agricultural side of animal biotech, there are not as many controversial issues regarding the veterinary side. Most Americans support the different ways science can improve the wellbeing of their pets, help curb infections in animal species, and control stray dog and cat populations. These collective goals have allowed the field to progress in amazing ways. The following are just a few examples:
Smarter Vaccination Strategies with DIVA
DIVA stands for Differentiating Infected from Vaccinated Animals, which neatly summarizes what this cool new technology allows. Differentiating between vaccinated and exposed animals allows for more efficient and economical processes for eradicating diseases, compared to conventional methods. The success of this technology was proven through the elimination of Aujesky’s disease in some species– also known as “pseudorabies” – a highly contagious viral infection that attacks the central nervous system of animals. It carried a high mortality rate especially in young animals. There is hope among vets that DIVA will be revolutionary to the eradication of other pet diseases, too. Currently there is research being done using this technique to help eliminate avian “bird” flu from bird populations.
Mutually Beneficial Disease Control
Like humans, animals have health problems that require medications and special treatments. Because we often think of pets as extra furry members of our families, owners are willing to “pay extra” for these treatments to save their pets’ lives. Although studies show that people aren’t as willing to pay for expensive medical treatment for their pets as they are for their children or themselves, there is enough of a market for it that an industry around pet medications is developing. Therefore, human medications are being researched for use in animals. For example, special versions of anti-anxiety drugs like Prozac have been modified for use in reducing anxiety for pets. While some drugs, like ibuprofen, have serious side effects in some pets, many human drugs can be modified chemically or in dosage in order to be used for animal benefit. Companies like Pfizer have developed to fill this market and research these new cures. However, Forbes analysis of their business shows that this market, while expanding rapidly, is still not incredibly prosperous. However, as more research is done and drugs are developed, this market shows promise of larger biotech companies opening their own animal branch.
Arguably one of the coolest of these research advances is the development of immunocastration. The procedure involves injecting a 20 percent calcium chloride solution in ethyl alcohol (also known as Calchlorin) into the testicles of the animal. This reversibly sterilizes the animal and reduces male sexual behaviors for approximately one year. Studies have shown that higher concentrations increase the length of sterilization, but at the risk of a lot more negative symptoms. As a result, more research is underway exploring alternative solvents that can lengthen the efficacy of the procedure – or make it permanent.
This technology has wide-reaching impacts, especially in countries where surgical neutering is expensive, inaccessible, or inefficient given the number of local dogs and cats. While surgical neutering can cost between $35-$140, depending on the size of the animal, the Calchlorin injection can be offered for less than $3.50. By implementing this in shelters and stray-ridden regions, their limited resources can be put towards the more expensive spay procedures for more females. Scientists hope this procedure will allow poorer countries to better control stray animal populations, which cause suffering to both the animals and local residents.